Geothermal Energy: Participation in Transforming Heat Supply System

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
The GECKO project is aimed at considering the concerns and knowledge of all parties at an early stage when developing a plant for the use of deep geothermal energy. (Photo: Kira Heid, KIT)
The GECKO project is aimed at considering the concerns and knowledge of all parties at an early stage when developing a plant for the use of deep geothermal energy. (Photo: Kira Heid, KIT)

With a “Scenario Workshop,” the GECKO project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is about to enter its final phase. On October 15, stakeholders, citizens, and staff of KIT will discuss scenarios for designing the planned climate-neutral heat supply system of KIT’s Campus North. The discussion will focus on the concerns and safety needs of the participants and their knowledge and interests. Thus, the desire for transparent communication will be addressed, as will be the wish to make geothermal energy from the KIT accessible to the surrounding communities.

About half of CO2 emissions in Germany are produced in the so-called heat sector by heating buildings and water as well as by the generation of industrial process heat. Heat stored in the Earth’s crust can significantly contribute to a climate-friendly CO2 balance of the heat sector. But not only the use of other renewable energy sources, also geothermal power plants are disputed, not least because citizens and municipalities consider their participation in decision processes insufficient. This is where the GECKO project, headed by Professor Eva Schill and Dr Christine Rösch, comes in: “How can a participation process be implemented, which will satisfy all parties involved in an infrastructure project for the energy transition?” This is how Christine Rösch, who heads the Sustainable Bioeconomy Research Group of KIT’s Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS), outlines the task.

Bringing together Concerned Parties with Experts at an Early Stage

Last year, the GECKO team organized two “criteria workshops,” one with the KIT staff and one with interested citizens, takeholders and with elected officials of the municipalities in the region. Authentic, differentiated opinions were obtained with respect to planning transparency, participation of citizens and municipalities, legal and insurance aspects, economic efficiency, and risk management of future plants.

Christine Rösch draws a positive interim conclusion: “The participants of the first workshops felt esteemed and considered this type of active participation adequate. GECKO appears to represent a promising way as to how concerned parties and experts can be brought together at an early stage to jointly develop a concept for planning the infrastructure facility.”

“Not only KIT, also the surrounding municipalities are faced with the question of how the energy transition and in particular the transformation of the heat supply system can be achieved,” says Eva Schill, Head of the Geoenergy Group of KIT’s Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal. “This became obvious in the course of the project, as did the wish for a sustainable and risk-minimized design of the plant at KIT. And it is one of the reasons why KIT wishes to let surrounding municipalities profit from the technology developed and the geothermal energy extracted.”

From the Exchange of Opinions to Use Scenarios

The scenarios for the use of underground geothermal energy on KIT’s Campus North resulting from the dialogue between science and the public reflect the citizens’ wishes, experiences, and opinions. First, geoscientists of the Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal translated the criteria identified in the workshops of 2020 into technical parameters and constraints. These were the basis for three different use scenarios that were checked for feasibility through modeling. In parallel, case studies of previous geothermal energy projects were made, and experts were interviewed.

About the GECKO Project

GECKO (“Use of geothermal energy for climate-neutral heat supply on KIT’s Campus North – inter- and transdisciplinary co-design of an implementation concept”) is a model project started in 2019. GECKO aims at using the planned deep geothermal energy plant on KIT’s Campus North as an example to test how the planning of infrastructure facilities for the generation and use of regenerative energy can be made more transparent and participative. The three partial projects of KIT and Öko-Institut e. V. cover geological, ecological, technical, economic, and social aspects.

The central focus of the project is on the transparency and participation of citizens. Scientists and citizens jointly create knowledge for the design of a concept for the use of geothermal energy and, hence, for the concrete dimensioning of future plants. This transdisciplinary process is based on the co-production and co-design approaches. The project is funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment, Climate Protection, and the Energy Sector within the BWPLUS program.

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